Syria’s information minister warns of retaliation after air strikes destroyed military targets. – ABCNews·
Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu pledged that authorities will erect a fence along the Israel-Syria border amid concerns that radical Islamist members have infested the area.
So far, Israel has stayed out of the Syrian conflict that has claimed more than 60,000 lives, most of them civilian. However, there is rising concern that the continued violence and fighting could soon spill over to Israel.
Among the worries, Netanyahu expressed concerns that Syrian President Bashir Assad may try to lure Israel into the battle as a final act of desperation. Even more troubling is a possible scenario in which Assad is overthrown with Syria being overtaken by Islamist extremists who will ultimately locate and gain access to the county’s cache of chemical arsenal.
Netanyahu’s address came just as Assad made an international plea for reconciliation and condemned the Western nations for providing aid to the rebels, adding that most of them had direct ties to al-Qaida.
At a Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu emphasized a need for a fence along the borders that it shared with Syria. Such a barrier already exists along the border that the country shares with Egypt, which is in place to curb the flow of migrants. The new fence, still in its planning phase, will provide a barrier to prevent access from jihad forces, which have overtook areas once occupied by the Syrian army.
Since the uprising in Syria began in March of 2011, mortar rounds have occasionally landed on Israel’s side of the territory. While the stray fire is believed to be accidental, Israel nevertheless fired retaliatory shots as a stern warning.
So far, no estimates have been given about how long such a project would take to complete. Even the barrier built along the Israel-Egypt border is not yet complete as the border stretches for 125 miles.
At a conference in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin harshly criticized the U.S. for its intervention in Libya and cited it as the reason for causing further chaos that ultimately led to the attack in Benghazi that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens dead.
During the conference, Putin also dismissed notions that Russia was making a mistake and losing influence in the Middle East by deciding not to intervene in Syria. He further added that his nation is only concerned for Syria’s stability and has no concern for the fate of President Assad and his regime.
Putin’s comments came just as human rights investigators sent by the United Nations concluded that what originally began as a fight to oust Assad and his government has evolved into a sectarian battle, which has pitted communities against one another. Fighters from as far as North Africa are getting involved and contributing to the endless blood bath.
Russia has been a long-time ally of Syria and has used its position in the United Nations Security Council to oppose intervention by the U.S. and it allies and has long defended the sovereignty of Assad’ s government. However, Russia’s tone has changed in recent days and acknowledged that Assad remaining in power may not be such a good thing. It has even urged Russians staying in Syria to evacuate the country immediately.
Russia has been a major arms supplier for Syria and even regularly uses Syria’s port of Tartus as a refueling point. Even so, Putin made it clear during the conference that the two nations merely shared a business relationship and nothing beyond that.
Human right investigations reveal that the situation in Syria has gone from bad to worse. Civilians are being driven out of their communities. Staying behind means they are at risk of becoming collateral damage.
President Barack Obama has announced that the U.S. will formally back Syria’s main rebel group to pursue a common goal of bringing an end to President Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship. The recognition puts the U.S. on the same page with its European allies who have already given their full support for the opposition.
In an interview with ABC News, President Obama said that the opposition coalition is representative enough of the Syrian people to the extent that they have earned the support of the U.S.
The Syrian National Coalition for revolutionary and Opposition Forces was formed in November and received immediate support from European nations. The U.S., however, was a little hesitant as it was concerned with Islamist rebels and extremists within the organization.
Western nations have also opened a window to engage in talks with Russia, which is one of Syria and Assad’s greatest allies. Obama has said that while it supports the opposition, it will also make sure to weed out those within the group who has ties to al Qaeda.
The Obama administration recently released intelligence reports that identify an opposition group as an affiliate of al Qaeda. The group is Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been linked to close to 600 terrorist attacks in Syria since November of last year. The U.S. has now barred all Americans from doing business with the organization. In addition, sanctions have also been imposed against two Jabhat al-Nusra members for their connection to al Qaeda in Iraq.
Plans for an international meeting will be held in Morocco where 80 nations from around the world will convene to discuss how it can further their collective support for the rebel groups. The conference is being dubbed as the “Friends of Syria” meeting. The conference will be held as the U.S. continues to monitor Assad’s government for signs of chemical weapons that it may deploy against its own people.
Reports are emerging that Syrian President Assad may seek political asylum. – CNN
Syria condemns Turkey for requesting missile deployment by NATO. – AlJazeera
A missile was fired into Syria courtesy of Israel as a warning sign. The shot was delivered to send a clear message to Syria after one of its mortars hit an Israeli military post in the Golan Heights. No injuries, casualties or significant damages were reported.
This is not the first time the incident has occurred. There have been multiple instances where mortar rounds from Syria have found its way into the Golan Heights. Israel believes the incidents are unintentional though it still holds Syria accountable.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich, a spokesperson for the Israeli Army, the missile shot was sent as a retaliatory warning simply to let Syria know that while they understand the mortars were accidental, they better be more careful from now on. In addition to the warning, Israel has also filed a formal complaint with the United Nations.
Israel and Syria have been bitter enemies who have fought against one another in several wars in the past. However, they do share a border and the two countries have mostly stayed out of the other’s affairs. Israel has expressed concerns that Syria’s civil war could spread into their territory. There is also concern that Islamist extremists could take over the region in the event that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and his government are overthrown.
It is currently believed that Syria has a stockpile of chemical weapons, which Israel fears could end up in the hands of Hezbollah if Assad is ousted. There are also worries that Syria is very close to turning into a lawless region and can be exploited by Islamist insurgents as a focal point for delivering rocket launches against Israel.
Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has publicly announced that the government is monitoring the situation and will be ready to act on any late breaking developments.
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A tense situation is unfolding between Turkey and Syria after the latter shot down a fighter jet belonging to the former. According to Turkish officials, one of their aircrafts was shot down while in international space. Authorities are now convening with NATO allies to decide what kind of measures should be taken in response. Syria claims that the jet crossed over to its airspace, which is a violation of its sovereignty.
Members of NATO will be gathering for a conference in Brussels to discuss the issue. No military action is expected at this point.
Jihad Makdissi, Syria’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman, said that Syria was merely acting out of self-defense and dismissed claims that the aircraft was in international space. It was also reported in the Syrian media that the jet may have been on an espionage mission and flew over the area to spy on the country’s radar system located in Latakia.
Turkey has said that no actions will be taken until it has discussed the matter with NATO, but has warned that the incident will not go unpunished. The matter may escalate even further after a claim that a second plane was fired at while on the search for wreckage of the downed jet.
Taner Yildiz, Turkey’s Energy Minister, said that a possible response may be to cut off Syria’s electricity supplies, since Turkey currently supplies Syria with about 10 percent of its power.
Turkey has also leaked news that several high ranking military members from Syria have defected due to souring relations between the two nations. Syria, in the meantime, has vowed that it will not stand idly by if NATO responds in an aggressive nature.
From the start of the Syrian crisis, Turkey has taken a firm stance against Syria’s government and has provided a refuge for defectors. About 33,000 Syrians have crossed over to Turkey for shelter.
The unending onslaught of violence brought on by Syria’s regime has resulted in an unimaginable death toll of civilians. News has been surfacing of military generals and other high ranking commanders defecting from the regime and fleeing the country with their families.
There is now rumor that Syria’s Prime Minister, Riyad Farid Hijab, has packed up his bags and fled as well. If the news is true, then this will make Hijab the highest ranking administer to defect from President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The news of Hijab’s defection was initially reported by opposition forces. Syria’s government-run media, however, has denied all rumors of Hijab making an about-face. The media has insisted that Hijab was fired and did not defect as reported by the opposition. There are also reports that the country’s finance minister defected as well; this is also being disputed by the media.
Since the conflicts began about 17 months ago, Syria’s regime has consistently been fazed by the sudden defection of top military and civilian officials. According to an activist, while Hijab had close ties to President Assad’s brother, he appeared to be deeply disturbed by the atrocities committed by the government he was heading.
Aside from the defections, Iran’s role in the melee is also becoming more tangled. Rebel fighters have reported the capture of 48 Iranians in Damascus. Iranian officials have also called for an international emergency conference to be held in Tehran. According to the rebels, the captured Iranians are members of the country’s Revolutionary Guards. Iran has denied the claims and insisted the men were merely visitors embarking on a pilgrimage to a religious shrine in the city of Tadamon.
Iran has been an ardent supporter of President Assad and has continuously blamed Syrian rebels for the violence and civilian deaths. It has also blasted neighboring countries for siding with the opposition.
Syrian authorities have issued a stern warning that it will not hesitate to employ an arsenal of chemical weapons against foreign invaders. The threat appears to be directed at Western nations in the event that they decide to deploy ground troops to the region.
For the U.S. and its allies, this appears to be an admission by Syria that they indeed own a stockpile of chemical weapons. The Syrian authorities have also issued a statement that its chemical arms will only be used to ward off a foreign invasion and would never be used against its own citizens.
According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Jihad Makdissi, the weapons will only be used to defend itself from foreign aggression and will be up to the generals whether they are to be deployed. However, when asked whether this was confirmation that Syria possesses such weapons, Makdissi would not give a direct confirmation. He only says that if such weapons exist, that they would only be used against foreign invaders and never be used domestically.
It is believed that Makdissi’s ambiguous statements were directed particularly at the U.S., Israel and Turkey. According to a report sent to Congress, Syria has steadily built a cache of chemical weaponry, which includes cyanide, sarin nerve agent and mustard gas, all of which can be spread through the use of firing from artillery rockets, missiles and aerial bombs.
While Syria continues to keep its enemies guessing over what it possesses in its arsenal, a diplomat from the United Nations said that in a conference with Kofi Annan, a message was leaked suggesting that any chemical weaponry Syria may own is stored in a safe location.
Aside from Syria, Israel has also been just as equally ambiguous about its own stockpile of chemical weapons. In fact, Syria and Israel are two of eight nations that continue to refuse to relinquish its cache of chemical arsenal, despite a 1997 convention for all countries to dismantle their collection of chemical-related weaponry.
Syria has become a hotbed of bloodshed in the 15 months since the country’s people lead a revolt against the rule of their president, Bashar Assad. In total since March 2011, over 11,400 were killed so far, including 9,862 civilians, 3,470 soldiers and 783 army deserters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
No one, not even civilians, are safe from the shelling and gunfire that is taking place nearly on a daily basis. Some activists are now claiming that militia members supportive of the government are now targeting unarmed civilians. The latest massacre is believed to have taken place in the province of Hama where 78 people were killed.
The victims included women and children. Some of the bodies showed signs of stab punctures, while other bodies were burned. Blood is spilling on the street every day and all signs are pointing in the direction of civil war if nothing is done to put a stop to the senseless killings.
Just two weeks before, another mass killing took place in the city of Houla. A pro-Assad gang known as Shabbiha slaughtered 108 civilians; half of the confirmed dead were children. The town of Mazraat al-Qabeer and Maazarif have been heavily shelled by Syrian forces. After the shelling, that’s when members of Shabbiha entered the city and began the massacre.
The slayings have been witnessed by United Nation members who were sent to observe a ceasefire agreement set in place by envoy Kofi Annan. Both the government and rebel fighters have since called off the truce to ceasefire due to recent attacks.
The government has refused to comment on the massacres and has restricted ground access for the international media. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, however, is calling for an immediate investigation.
Until there is deeper international involvement, it looks like there are no plans for either the government or rebels to lay down their arms. This means that similar massacres will likely take place in the coming weeks and months. The death tally is expected to rise.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, spoke at a joint press conference alongside British Foreign Secretary, William Hague. In his statement, Lavrov openly condemned opposition forces, citing that they and Bashar al-Assad’s regime are responsible for the fighting that resulted in over 100 civilian casualties in the cities of Hama and Houla.
While Russia has backed the UN Security Council in criticizing the heavy artillery attack on the city of Houla by the Syrian government, it has also pointed out that Assad’s regime is not the only party responsible.
Russia sided with Syria’s position that terror groups like al-Qaida also contribute to the non-stop violence. Russia continues to sell a cache of weaponry to Assad, who is a vital ally to the Kremlins.
In the midst of the violence and fatalities, Lavrov did try to distance the Kremlin for Assad’s regime and added that its foremost priority is to put a halt to the bloodshed, so that Syrians can establish a stable government.
Lavrov and Hague called for both sides to agree to a cease fire and to return to the negotiating table. This ensures that plans for the six-point peace plan – which is vital for putting an end to the Syrian conflict – can move forward. Hague added that without the plan, Syria is doomed to bloody civil war.
While Lavrov emphasized that an end to violence is the main objective, he also directed the weight of the blame to outside forces, which he says have been encouraging opposition parties to fight in order to force other nations to intervene.
Lavrov admitted that the massacre at Houla was largely due to artillery shelling from the government. However, he also pointed to a number of civilian deaths that came at the hands of small arms gun fire, which he claims came from the opposition.
Russia’s position on Syria has put the country at odds with the West. Russia is opposed to direct intervention in sovereign nations and has reportedly balked at sanctions imposed against Syria by the West.
According to a new report released this week, it appears that the import of foreign weapons to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad increased dramatically in recent years, just before the revolution began in Syria. Compared to the previous five years, the shipments of foreign arms were much higher, and most of them came from Russia. The report, prepared by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) show some impressive numbers as to what the state of military weapons appeared to be.
Since the revolution started last year, an estimated 9,000 people died so far, most of them civilians, including many children. The SIPRI reports comes just as the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, was travelling to Moscow in order to meet with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, to help negotiate with the Syrian government so that aid could be brought in the most affected regions of the country. Mr Kellenberger said that the humanitarian situation in the country was most likely to get worse.
Meanwhile the report itself found that Syria’s most important weapons import went up 580% between 2006 and 2011. Their most important seller was Russia with 78% of the arms provided to the regime. These Russian weapons included surface to air missiles, coastal defense missiles, and other small arms. Moscow acknowledged in the past selling arms to Assad, despite a UN arms embargo proposal. How many weapons were delivered however remained unclear.
In a speech to Russia’s parliament last week, Mr. Lavrov claimed that the weapons sent to Rysia were for external threats only, and had not been used against civilians or demonstrators. However, many humanitarian organizations such as Human Rights Watch believe otherwise. For example, Russian-made mines were used extensively to block the traffic of people between Turkey and Lebanon, including many fleeing refugees. Nearly $1 billion worth of Russian missiles and airplanes were apparently sold to Syria in 2011 alone. These included some modern Mig planes along with weapons able to take down any invading aircraft.
Meanwhile, Russia is trying to keep its business relationship with the country intact, and has been supporting the Assad regime all this time, which prompted a lot of worldwide criticism. Moscow wants to prevent an outside intervention in Syria like the one that happened in Libya, where Nato countries used a UN resolution to support rebels against Muammar Gaddafi. Despite calling for Mr. Assad to step down, the western powers have been hesitant to provide arms to rebels, fearing an escalation of the war. The EU has banned arms exports to Syria last year.